Toronto’s claim as Canada’s beer capital has its merits: There are more breweries within T-Dot city limits than anywhere else in the country; these breweries and the seemingly endless beer bars are embraced fully by the locals (and, increasingly, by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario); and for the most part, the beer coming out of this city is approaching the quality you’d expect out of Chicago or Seattle.
Yet, for everyone on the West Coast, Toronto might as well be on the moon, given how little most Vancouverites seem to know (or care) about the city’s beer culture. But Toronto is enormous, vibrant and experiencing some kind of Golden Age on all cultural fronts.
A tour of Toronto breweries is really a tour of its many unique neighbourhoods. With few exceptions, these neighbourhoods don’t have the same concentration of breweries that Yeast Van, East Portland or Seattle’s Ballard do. It’s next to impossible to visit more than six breweries in a day, and that’s only if you have a chauffeur driving you all over the city.
As such, this guide isn’t intended to cover everything the city has to offer. Instead, it’s a guide to the most creative, artisanal and neighbourhood-focused breweries and brewpubs in Central Toronto that we visited over our three days in town.
That means we haven’t included Great Lakes Brewing — which is arguably the most popular craft brewery, and certainly one of the best — because it’s out in Etobicoke. Nor did we include Steam Whistle Brewing because it only makes one beer, even though it offers one of the all-time great Canadian brewery tours and employs probably the nicest people in all of Toronto. You should definitely visit both of these places if you can.
The Junction is the lone neighbourhood that’s home to multiple breweries, which is ironic, considering the area was dry until 2002. But once city council opened the area up to liquor licences, the mix of low rents and adequate zoning made it an attractive area for the city’s entrepreneurs to launch new breweries.
Henderson Brewing — the Junction’s newest brewery — takes its name from Toronto’s very first brewery, which was founded by Robert Henderson in 1800. The tasting room’s walls are adorned with fake ads and memorabilia from a fictional history in which Robert Henderson’s original brewery never closed.
The intention here is to provide a community space, a place for Junction residents to pick up their beer the way they would pick up pork from the local butcher. Its beers — three cores and a monthly limited release — are all designed for approachability. No funky yeasts or 85 IBUs here. Instead, Henderson favours “craft regular beer,” according to owner Steve Himel. It’s not going to blow any palates apart, but it will do wonders for anyone who’s skeptical about craft brewing’s weirder inclinations.
Added bonus: The air here reeks of chocolate from the Nestlé factory down the block.
This brewpub is centrally located off the Junction’s main intersection. And after only four years in business, it also has quite possibly the most impressive lineup of beers The Growler has seen outside of Portland, brewing everything from IPAs to Flemish sours. Never mind that the great bulk of these are astounding. Nor should you mind that the venue is all exposed brick, refinished wood and oozes the kind of next-level cool that you’d expect out of a city as trendy as Toronto. But you should definitely mind the bacon popcorn.
Left Field Brewery
Now we go to the complete opposite side of the city, to the up-’n’-coming Leslieville neighbourhood, where the husband-and-wife duo of Mark and Mandie Murphy started the baseball-themed Left Field. The brewery’s aesthetic is the most indebted to the Portland or Seattle style than any other we visited in Toronto — and, in fact, it’s the first to feature an open concept and a tasting room as most understand it. As of two years ago, there was nothing operating quite like this. It offers a neighbourhood-pub vibe with a solid lineup of approachable brews, including Eephus, which is the rare brown ale to serve as a flagship beer for a Canadian brewery.
Bandit has the most hype surrounding it of any of the breweries we visited, possibly because it had only opened earlier this year, and is located in the relatively hip Roncesvalles neighbourhood.
Or maybe it’s because of the physical brewery itself. Tasting-room culture is just finding its footing in Toronto, and Bandit arguably does it best, with an interior design and sizable patio custom-built to lure millennials in to stay for four or five hours at a time. This is an excellent place to drink beer.
Granted, the beers are hit and miss. Anyone with a (pretentiousness alert!) refined palate may find the offerings here not up their alley, but the feedback we heard from non-snooty beer consumers is that the beer is perfectly acceptable. Plus there’s 20 of them on tap.
And that’s ultimately what makes Bandit so appealing — it’s a great-looking and -feeling establishment where regular people can hang out for hours with friends and get a good buzz on.
This Ossington brewpub is notorious for its lengthy queues, good food, and small lineup of brews that are fruity, citrusy and just about perfectly suited for the unrelenting hipness of its customers. We hate to peg anything as a “hipster” establishment, but more than any other brewery we’ve visited, this one fits the bill.
We mean this in the best possible way — there’s a refined attention to detail right down to the candle holders that makes this an immersive, high-quality experience that is absolutely worth the trek and worth the wait in line (unless you get there early enough to avoid said line). It also has one of the all-time great Toronto patios.
Rainhard Brewing Co.
Oh shit, we need to go aaaaaall the way back to the Junction. Rainhard, which opened in 2015, is known primarily for its American-style pale ales, but its monthly specialty releases allow founder Jordan Rainhard to experiment with whatever styles he wants. The facility has an open concept, inspired by West Coast breweries, with a tasting room looking out onto the workspace. The brewery will likely see increased traffic within the next year, when another Junction brewery — aptly named Junction Brewery — will move its operation to the enormous renovated heritage building right next door.
The Beer Lovers Tour (BeerLoversTour.com) offers a variety of tours of the city’s breweries, one of which is a historic brewery tour, exploring sites and scenes that have relevance to the brewing industry of the past.
Also, the city has Uber, which is really just the best thing going, really. Vancouver council, if you’re reading this, I mean, Uber is just the best. Really, the best. Hint, hint.
Where to stay
The Chelsea Hotel Toronto (ChelseaToronto.com) is centrally located at Yonge and Gerrard Streets, which, while not anywhere close to any of the breweries mentioned here, is smack in the middle of the city and close to all public transport. It’s also affordable, comfortable and offers close proximity to the blissful chaos that is Dundas Square on any given rush-hour day and/or weekend evening.